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Downtown planners may be told not to consider capitol view corridors

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Although the ROMA Design Group, the company hired to advise the city on the future of its downtown, believes it had a clear directive to re-evaluate one capitol view corridor—the one from Wooldridge Park—three members of the City Council are sponsoring an item on this week’s Council agenda to make sure that does not happen.


Last month, the Council voted unanimously to move forward with phase two of the Downtown Plan, bringing the total contract amount to more than $1.4 million.


This week, Council Members Laura Morrison, Lee Leffingwell and Randi Shade, are co-sponsoring a resolution directing City Manager Marc Ott to redefine ROMA’s scope of work to “exclude any consideration of adjustments to the Capitol View Corridors.”


Leffingwell said as far as he as concerned, “It’s a settled issue.” Any reconsideration of the matter by ROMA “would have the effect of misrepresenting the downtown plan, when in the minds of a lot of people, me included, those capital view corridors will remain—permanently.” He said Travis County had some hopes of building new county facilities across from the park but had given up on that idea.


Morrison told In Fact Daily that Council had not seen the scope of work, which was negotiated by city staff, when they approved the contract on March 12.


ROMA is relying on city staff and on conversations that Council had on the dais on Feb. 14, 2008 about whether to rethink the Wooldridge Park view corridor and to add new ones. At that time, both Leffingwell and Council Member Brewster McCracken said if one corridor were to be deleted, another should be added.


It is, of course, not really up to the city.  The Texas Legislature adopted the view corridor law in 1983. In 2007, some members of the city’s Downtown Commission approached members of the Legislature about changing the view corridors. As a result, a long list of legislators sent a letter to the city saying they opposed changing the corridors.


Julian Reed of the Heritage Society of Austin told the Council in 2008, “Our position is that we oppose any changes.” Reed said the deal adopted 25 years ago “was not something that happened very casually. The corridors . . . were the result of intensive negotiations between the State and the city and were a compromise at the time.”


Shade noted that neither she nor Morrison were on the Council when it discussed changing the Wooldridge Park corridor. After reading a memo on the issue and the Council transcript, Shade said, “I can understand where there could have been some interpretation,” that ROMA should study the view corridors. But, she said, this is “a state issue and I would prefer that we spend the resources on things we can do.”


However, ROMA planner Jana McCann told In Fact Daily her group has already completed its evaluation of the Wooldridge view corridor. She said it only took about a week to do and cost about $14,000. According to a memo from McCann and Jim Adams of ROMA, the company did intend to hold stakeholder meetings throughout April and May and present their findings in June or July.


Asked what their conclusion was, McCann said, “I guess we’re not free to say.” But she noted that during its first phase of planning ROMA had found that the Wooldridge view corridor “unduly limited development on the blocks across from Wooldridge square and it was at cross purposes” with redevelopment of that area. She pointed out that the buildings east of the park are limited to 15-25 feet in height and one current use is two drive-through banks.


McCann added, “I’m sure that City Council didn’t realize we were given a notice to proceed and that this item was in our scope of work.

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